Earlier this season while the Miami Dolphins offense was going nowhere and doing nothing the blame for such ineptitude never seemed to fall on Jay Cutler.
And I’m raising my hand because I was chief among those absolving Cutler when receivers were chronic in running wrong patterns (a four-week problem) or dropping passes (a two-week phase) or the protection was sub par (another five- or six-game stretch).
But I’m done pardoning guilty parties. The Miami Dolphins are 6-8 and in full regression mode from a year ago. So it is time I say it clearly:
Jay Cutler has been a boondoggle for the Dolphins.
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(Let’s pause for the definition of boondoggle: Work or activity that is wasteful or pointless but gives the appearance of having value.)
Tell me that’s not Cutler in 2017?
The Dolphins hired him for $10 million in August and sold us on the idea that everything was going to be just fine because head coach Adam Gase is a quarterback whisperer and Cutler is one of his favorite former pupils who improved massively in 2015 amid all of Gase’s whispering.
Except when 2017 Jay Cutler showed up in South Florida he apparently turned a deaf ear to Gase’s whispering.
The same Cutler that has always had terrible footwork showed up.
The same Cutler who holds the ball too low as if no one ever taught him any technique showed up (more on that in a minute).
The same Cutler who for 11 NFL seasons got the reputation of being up-one-week-and-down-the-next-inconsistent showed up.
Media colleagues and others in Denver and Chicago laughed at me -- LAUGHED -- when I told them Gase could turn Cutler into a solid starter for the Dolphins this year. They reminded me about the Cutler they saw for years and predicted he would be that guy in Miami.
And they were right.
I understand now why Cutler failed in Denver and Chicago. Because he did the same things there he’s doing here. Cutler is most assuredly failing in Miami.
And the thing is Cutler offers the most frustrating and dangerous form of failure.
He fails while giving off the vibe that he’s close to succeeding. He fails but only enough to suggest that if he gets a little more time, and things change just a little bit here and there, there can be success.
In that regard Jay Cutler is a coach killer.
Because his talent suggests he can be a pretty good, exceedingly gifted NFL starting quarterback who just needs a little work to be elite.
Except he’s not elite. Never been. Will never be. He is a middle of the road guy who will lose as many games as he wins. I’m being kind because his career record as a starter is 74-77.
He’s just a guy.
Two weeks ago, Cutler had me thinking he was on to something. He had fans thinking the same. He had the Dolphins thinking it, too.
He threw three touchdowns passes without an interception in a stellar performance against New England. The dude played his position like Bach played the violin. It was beautiful.
And six days later, Cutler threw three interceptions without a touchdown and fumbled four times against the Buffalo Bills. Despite often having ample time to throw the football, Cutler drifted so as to ruin his footwork. He held the ball low, allowing defenders to swipe it out of his hands. It was a mess.
And you know what we got out of the combined outings?
The Dolphins won a game to raise hopes, and lost a game to cut your heart out.
Cutler posted combined statistics of 53-of-87 (60.9 percent completion) for 537 yards with 3 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. His combined NFL quarterback rating the two games was 75.69, which everyone knows is poor.
Cutler being Cutler.
His rating this season is 80.6. That is 26th among 35 qualifying quarterbacks.
Gase has to be disappointed. Because Gase vouched for Cutler. And he defended Cutler publicly when things went wrong. And he had high expectations of Cutler.
And Cutler this year is playing worse than he did in 2015 when the quarterback whisperer and the quarterback previously teamed up.
In 2015 with the Chicago Bears, Cutler threw 21 TD passes and 11 interceptions.
This season Cutler has thrown 18 TD passes and 14 interceptions.
No, the season isn’t over. But all that means is Cutler still has a couple more touchdowns in him. And a couple more interceptions as well.
He may have another great performance in him. But he’s also got another stinker to deliver.
That’s the point. We’re not seeing bad Jay after good Jay.
We’re seeing ... Jay.
He’s not bad.
But he’s not good.
He’s just ... a guy.
It hurts to admit this because, again, I bought the hype earlier this season. I allowed myself to excuse the terrible footwork and inconsistent mechanics and unreliable performances because the Cutler has a very good arm, and can make all the throws, and has good pocket awareness, and knows where he should go with the football.
But I’m done with that. Next.
And that brings me to the biggest problem I can think of. I’m convinced Cutler isn’t a very good quarterback. I know he isn’t.
History knows he isn’t. The tape knows he isn’t.
But I don’t know if the Dolphins have figured this out yet.
Why do I say this?
Well, as colleague Barry Jackson wrote Monday, the Dolphins are going to use the final two games to gain clarity at certain positions. And one of Barry’s nuggets is the Dolphins want more clarity on Cutler because they might (or might not) bring him back in 2018.
Are you kidding me?
The team needs to see more to make a decision?
And that decision might ultimately be to bring Cutler back as a backup to Ryan Tannehill?
Can someone please point me to a steep cliff so I can set myself on fire and dive off?
What don’t the Dolphins understand about Cutler is not very good?
And you might want him as the backup? Why, so that the loons will be demanding a Tannehill benching the first time he struggles in 2018 because, you know, Cutler has started games for a long time?
Is this real life?
I wish to remind you the Miami Dolphins play in the AFC East. And in that division, one team has been dominant since my hair was black because they have a great, great, great quarterback. But it’s not just that.
The Patriots have a great, great, great quarterback and all the other teams in the AFC East have had poo by comparison.
There has been no Dan Marino versus Jim Kelly in this division this millennium.
But here’s the thing: The New York Jets and Buffalo Bills apparently recognize this problem. Those two teams are going into next offseason intent on finding a franchise quarterback.
Both of them -- BOTH -- have had better starting quarterbacks than the Dolphins this season. Josh McCown has been better than Jay Cutler. Tyrod Taylor has been better than Jay Cutler.
Both these quarterbacks have lit up Jay Cutler in face-to-face meetings.
And despite this, the Bills and the Jets already know they want to find franchise quarterbacks next offseason. Because they know neither McCown nor Taylor are franchise quarterbacks.
Meanwhile, in Miami, the Dolphins are seeking clarity on Cutler. Because they apparently aren’t sure about him yet. And they intend to go back Tannehill as their starter.
Said another way, this Dolphins brain trust has seen two quarterbacks up close and intimately the past two seasons. Neither of the two has a career winning record. Neither has ever put up elite numbers in any NFL season they’ve played. Neither has ever been a franchise caliber quarterback in the past nor is a certainty to be a franchise quarterback in the future.
(Ryan Tannehill might be good some day but we don’t know and neither do the Dolphins because, remember, they got it wrong on Cutler.)
And after all those facts are in already, we might see the team decide to keep ... both?
To spend, I don’t know, between $22-25 million on a quarterback room that includes a 30-year-old who will not have played an NFL game in 21 months when next season begins and a 35-year-old who is consistent only in his inconsistency?
I’m going to shout this from the roof tops until the 2018 NFL draft is over: The Miami Dolphins need to draft a quarterback to back up Ryan Tannehill.
I’m not advocating drafting a QB in the seventh round to put him on the practice squad for three years. The Dolphins have got to select a rookie early enough who is good enough to compete with Tannehill for the starting job.
No, I don’t expect him to win the job. But I do expect him to improve and push Tannehill. And be good enough to displace Tannehill eventually.
This rookie, drafted early enough to be a factor, including the first round if necessary, will be cheaper than Cutler even if the veteran accepts a backup role and salary.
Money aside, the rookie will come with things Cutler lacks: Upside. Promise for the future.
He’ll keep being Jay Cutler. Which hasn’t been good enough.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero